The younger population is the latest demographic being targeted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC and many states are reporting alarming numbers as the virus gains a foothold in the nation’s youth. While many may weather the virus easier than their older family members, COVID-19 can do permanent damage. Perhaps my story will be a cautionary tale.
As a teen, I contracted a virus known then as the swine flu. I was sicker than I’d ever been and missed a month of school before my fever finally broke. I thought I was weak from being in bed for so long, but my strength didn’t return. After two weeks I still couldn’t stand without assistance. couldn’t walk, and couldn’t raise my arms. The flu had attacked my nerves, and eventually I was diagnosed with Guillain-barré Syndrome (GBS), which was a direct result of the flu.
I regained partial functionality but my daily routine in high school was challenging. I couldn’t climb stairs on my own. I couldn’t participate in gym or sports. I was late to every class. At that age, the last thing you want is to arrive after the bell and shuffle your way to the only seat remaining – in the front of the class. GBS also affected my social life because I quite literally couldn’t keep up.
College brought similar challenges. I couldn’t make it across campus on time and had to choose classes based on their proximity to each other. A backpack weighted down with books was a nightmare. My dorm had about 25 cement steps leading up to its entry. I did my best to only tackle those stairs once each day, which meant managing my schedule carefully. I remember fire drills when I couldn’t descend the stairs from the seventh floor.
This weakness is something I’ve carried into adulthood. On my wedding day I had flats on under my gown. At the reception I heard my new husband whisper to his father, “Be careful, she struggles with balance.” Later, being pregnant proved difficult and picking up my children was nearly impossible. I couldn’t run with them on the playground or take them on outings that required careful supervision and fast reflexes. Even loading them into car seats turned into a production.
Despite these issues, I’ve compensated well, am incredibly happy and know how lucky I am. This article isn’t written as a complaint. Rather, it’s simply to share that a virus can have long-lasting effects.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom stated that some young people “think they are invincible but don’t feel it’s going to impact them and if it does, it’s not a big burden.” I always felt invincible. Until suddenly I didn’t. If wearing a mask would have kept me or someone I loved from contracting the flu, well, it would have been an easy decision. Mask up and stay socially distant. You may be thankful you did.
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